The 15th annual Latino Spirit Awards held May 2 at the state Capitol, proved that point.
The Latino Legislative Caucus honored exemplary Latinos in categories ranging from athletics/sports, to public service and human rights. Many of the honorees are pioneers in their respective fields and have overcome tremendous obstacles, rising to become role models and community leaders.
This year’s impressive list was no exception.
There was nine-time Grammy Award winner and ranchera singer, Pepe Aguilar, who was honored in the area of Arts and Entertainment.
There was also Nobel Prize-winning Dr. Mario Molina, who received the Achievement in Science award.
There was also Marco Lizárraga, who has dedicated his entire life to bettering the lives of farmworkers. He was honored with the Achievement in Community Empowerment award.
“These are the kind of Latinos who serve as a reminder that the Latino community is not only diverse, but also incredibly accomplished. And, in California, these Latinos demonstrate the best that California has to offer,” said Assemblymember Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, and caucus chair.
(See www.vidaenelvalle.com for stories of each of the 10 honorees).
The honorees were escorted by lawmakers and recognized for their accomplishments with opening remarks made by the former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa touched on all the reasons why this year’s honorees add to the diverse tapestry that has made California a destination of migration for many families of all different ethnic backgrounds and origins for hundreds of years.
“We are so lucky to be enriched by the lives of those who come to California with all of their different experiences and their culture. It is important we grow and learn from one another, especially from individuals who have come to embody what it means to fulfill, not the California Dream, but the American Dream,” said Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa said the picture that has been painted about Latinos in recent months has been inaccurate, hurtful and completely wrong.
“The rhetoric targeting the Latino community, and many others for that matter, are not true. What we say in California, whether we are Republican or Democrat, we have come to know and understand that in this great state, we honor and celebrate our differences and commonalities,” said Villaraigosa.
Many of the people who come to California do so to work hard, play by the rules and have pushed hard through times of great injustices to achieve certain rights, like the one to vote, and have gladly signed up to fight for the country, he said.
Villaraigosa also touched on a “new wave of Americans” like California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendón, state Senate President pro Tem Kevin De León, and former Assembly Speakers like Cruz Bustamante, Fabián Núñez, John Pérez and others, who have been trailblazers for Latinos in California.
Because of them, many positive changes have happened within the Latino community, especially for farmworkers.
“I still remember the time our Legislature was grappling with issues of how to ensure that those who put food on our table, had toilets out in the fields and water breaks when they were outside picking the very fruits and vegetables that are in our grocery stores,” said Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa also had a message for young Latinos and for all of those who aspire to achieve big dreams.
“It’s important to never, ever forget where you came from and that you stand on the shoulders of giants. You owe your contributions to others and despite the national demagoguery targeting Latinos, I firmly and strongly believe that Latinos will march on and succeed, like we have always done,” he said.
The 2016 Latino Spirit Awards were held in conjunction with the recognition of Cinco de Mayo, which marks the key battle in 1862 when an undermanned Mexican army beat the powerful French army in Puebla.
Cinco de Mayo is a day that is significant to Mexican-Americans in California and is celebrated mostly in the United States, rather than México because of its ties to the American Civil War. According to historian and professor, Dr. David Hayes-Bautista, news of the Mexican victory over French forces arrived in California around the same time as news of the Union Army’s defeat in the Seven Days Battles.
“Cinco de Mayo is part of a unique and shared history with California with many people drawing their roots to their Native American, Mexican and Spanish heritage,” said Assembly member José Medina, D-Riverside.
In conjunction with the Latino Spirit Awards, Medina introduced HR-49, a resolution commemorating the Cinco de Mayo holiday.
Alejo said it’s the essence of the holiday that has been a source of pride for many Latinos in California.
“It’s a reminder of the historical and ongoing contributions of Latinos in our state. We have shaped culture, and made an impact in politics. Much like those who fought in México during the Battle of Puebla, those who have been honored this year embody the true ‘spirit’ of courage,” said Alejo.
Since 2002, the Latino Spirit Awards were established at the State Capitol to coincide with the state’s acknowledgment of Cinco de Mayo and to highlight the positive role models in the community.